The Challenges of Political Corruption in Australia, the Proposed Commonwealth Integrity Commission Bill (2020) and the Application of the APUNCAC

This paper interrogates the weaknesses in the Australian 2020 Commonwealth Integrity Commission (CIC) Bill – a bill proposed to establish an Australian anti-corruption commission. Proposals for improving the application of the UNCAC and APUNCAC to Australia’s case are included.

Marie dela Rama

This paper interrogates the weaknesses in the Australian 2020 Commonwealth Integrity Commission (CIC) Bill – a bill proposed to establish an Australian anti-corruption commission. Proposals for improving the application of the UNCAC and APUNCAC to Australia’s case are included.

Key Takeaways

Political corruption affects each nation-state differently, but the outcomes are nominally the same: a deficit of public trust, weakened government institutions and undermined political systems.
  • “Sections 99, 10, 182, 184, 239 and 243 of the bill seek to protect the reputation of a person who is the subject of an investigation. Section 243 states that before the public release of reports, the Minister in charge must “remove information . . . that may unfairly prejudice a person’s reputation.” This is problematic because this language favors the protection of private interests, serving to shield those interests from the reputational damage of a corruption investigation, over the protection of the public interest in knowing the identities of public officials who may be involved in corrupt acts.” (dela Rama, Lester and Staples, 2022, p. 6)
  • “Section 3.2 distinguishes, on the one hand, the treatment accorded to politicians and other public sector bureaucrats, and, on the other, that accorded to law enforcement bureaucrats. Politicians are afforded preferential treatment. Section 3.2 permits investigations of law enforcement officers, but not public officials, for corrupt activities. This is problematic because it imposes a higher standard of accountability over the former, versus the latter group of public officials.” (dela Rama, Lester and Staples, 2022, p. 7)
  • Section 99 of the bill contains a major structural weakness. “[It fails] to require public hearings when receiving charges involving the public sector division, [and to] require integrity testing. [This is problematic] when key public appointments are increasingly politicized (Mulgan 2007). It is also inconsistent with the operational success of the NSW ICAC. The NSW ICAC has used public hearings successfully to hold public officials to account (Ackland 2015; Mitchell 2015).” (dela Rama, Lester and Staples, 2022, p. 8)
  • “While there will be continued challenges in addressing the adaptive nature of corruption, UNGASS 2021 and the UNCAC COSP9 demonstrate the commitment by UN Member States to address this challenge. They highlight the progress and action being made at the international level to mitigate and address the destructive effects of corruption.” (dela Rama, Lester and Staples, 2022, p. 19)

How To Apply Insights

  • The universal instrument to fight corruption is the UN Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC). A further instrument, the Anti-Corruption Protocol of the UNCAC (APUNCAC) takes a far more aggressive measure and Australia (and other countries) should recognize, harmonize and implement the obligations in this protocol without deviations. Formal written measures are not enough; substantive enforcement action must be taken to do this.
  • Australia needs to establish a strong and independent anti-corruption commission to ensure a strong political culture of integrity. First, such a commission needs a broader conceptualization of corruption than what was proposed in the 2020 bill, and should emphasize the need for integrity in all public and private sector interactions involving all elected and public officials. Secondly, the provisions in the 2020 bill that shield public officers, not involved in law enforcement, from corruption investigations should be eliminated. Third, the anti-corruption commission should be empowered to convene public hearings to shine a bright light where it is needed to promote a healthy moral climate within Australia’s public institutions.
  • While there is ongoing consultation with Australian civil society, Australia should continue to involve civil society in the fight against corruption, and also search for ways to increase civil society’s impact.

Why This Research Matters

Over the past decade, Australia’s score on the Corruption Perceptions Index of Transparency International has fallen from 85 (2012) to 73 (2021), demonstrating that corruption in the country is rising. The authors of this paper are concerned that Australia is entering the early stages of what Rose-Ackerman described as “grand corruption”[1]. While Australian voters were promised a national anti-corruption commission during the 2019 elections, civil society reactions to the resulting 2020 CIC Bill were critical and the government bill was not introduced into Parliament for debate. The forthcoming general election in 2022 has also raised this institutional deficit.[2] Two other existing bills to establish an anti-corruption commission have also failed to materialise. While the authors deem it clear that there is a problem of corruption in Australia, they argue that there is a fundamental failure to appreciate this problem by Australian publicly elected officials in government. With this backdrop, this research paper investigates how political corruption is addressed in Australia.

[1] Rose-Ackerman, S. (1996) Democracy and ‘grand’ corruption, International Social Science Journal, 149 (48): 365-380

[2] Editorial (2022) Morrison shows bad faith in his hit job against ICAC, The Age, 18th April

Findings & Research Conclusions

Although anti-corruption measures are being taken on the multilateral level, Australian initiatives are not keeping up on the national level. The country risks falling behind in anti-corruption work and may end up being excluded from the dialogue and progress that is occurring internationally. While the CIC Bill does address some forms of corruption, it is far from aggressive enough to tackle the problem in an effective manner, as it does not introduce measures that instill the necessary culture of integrity in political institutions. Such a culture is necessary, as corruption is bigger than the reputational risk of a person that resorts to it; corruption is institutional.

About Case Study

The paper includes a section-by-section analysis of Australia’s proposed CIC bill, identifying the parts that are flawed in the pursuit of tackling political corruption.

Research's methodology

The research was based upon a section-by-section legalistic document analysis of the proposed Australian 2020 Commonwealth Integrity Commission (CIC) Bill. The authors applied a National Integrity Ecosystem (NIE) Framework to conceptualize the bill’s relevance and place within the country’s existing push and pull levers of institutional integrity.

The methodology that has been applied in this research should be applicable to different countries and regions within the same context of anti-corruption law and policy measures.


The research was limited mainly by being focused on Australia and a particular focus on a bill. Although some multilateral initiatives and exemplars from other countries are mentioned, this is not a comparative study. Research design limitations are thus mainly geographical and instrumental.

National Integrity Ecosystem (NIE) FrameworkFramework assembled by the authors that depicts the factors influencing the behavior of public officials. A figure of this framework is depicted on page 4 of the research paper: The policies of deregulation, neoliberalism, privatization and the role of the country’s elite networks influence the level of corruption. Institutions, state Independent Commission Against Corruptions (ICACs), the CIC bill, the UN Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC), the Anti-Corruption Protocol of UNCAC (APUNCAC), and community culture and values influence the degree to which corruption impacts the behavior of public officials. These elements influence the degree of accountability, transparency, and integrity, which in turn influences the level of public trust in public officials and the government.

Reference this research

dela Rama, M. J., Lester, M. E., & Staples, W. (2022). The Challenges of Political Corruption in Australia, the Proposed Commonwealth Integrity Commission Bill (2020) and the Application of the APUNCAC. Laws, 11(1), 7.

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